Dressing in layers alone, though, will not be enough to get the Bolts past the Bengals. That task, it turns out, calls for much more from this team. The formula for beating the Bengals follows a pretty predictable pattern:
• Stop the run game. The Bengals averaged 117 yards/game on the ground in their wins, just 92 in their losses. Even more importantly…
• Force Andy Dalton into turnovers. Dalton threw 9 of his 20 total picks this year during the team’s five losses.
Unfortunately, that formula demands that the Chargers flip the script on their Week 13 loss at home to the Bengals. The Bolts gave up 160 yards on the ground in that game. With his team moving the sticks so effectively via the run, Dalton only dropped back 23 times. The Bolts did little to force his hand, either, as Dalton left the game without being hit once.
Much has been made about the impact of Jarret Johnson, Melvin Ingram, and King Dunlap in their returns to the lineup. No doubt the Bolts are healthier than they were in Week 13. But Ingram’s insertion has not exactly correlated to sacks in droves (the man has two sacks in his career, by the way), and the Kansas City JV didn’t exactly struggle to move the ball on the Chargers last week, via run or pass.
Can the Chargers possibly upset this offensive juggernaut in frigid, hostile territory? Sure. The same way they did on a Thursday night in Denver three weeks ago. That night, the Chargers held Knowshon Moreno – he of 224 yards on the ground just three weeks earlier against New England – and the other Denver backs to 18 yards on the ground. The Bolts scored enough early to justify playing ball control, and John Pagano dialed up timely blitzes to keep Peyton Manning off balance.
At the time, the win in Denver seemed like little more than a notch in the Chargers’ division rivalry belt; now, it’s a road map for playoff success. That, and a few pair of thick socks.